By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Another high school soccer season is almost upon us and it means one thing.
The Kearny boys’ team simply has to compete for county and state championships.
Anything less than being a contender is simply not accepted in these parts.
The Kardinals were 17-3- 2 last season and won the Hudson County Tournament championship. At one point in the season, the Kards were ranked No. 10 in the entire state before falling to Montclair in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV quarterfinals.
Veteran head coach Bill Galka knows that the expectations are once again high, even though there was a major turnover in the Kardinals’ roster.
“We lost 15 seniors from the program to graduation,” Galka said. “So it’s almost like having a whole new team. We have some players up from the freshman and JV (junior varsity) teams that will help us right away and play important roles. We lose players every year, but we’re fortunate to get guys from the lower levels to step in right away and help us.”
If there is a concern with the Kardinals, it would have to be with their backline.
“We have only one kid who played a lot in the back last year,” Galka said. “It’s basically a new group. They’re all learning now to play four across (the backline, instead of the sweeper/stopper formation), so we’ve been working on that and hoping they become more comfortable as time goes on.”
The lone returning starter among the defenders is senior Michael Dias, who has been a defensive stalwart for the last two seasons.
“I’m hoping he gives us a lot of leadership with his experience,” Galka said.
The other defenders include seniors Michael Almeida and Christopher Smith, junior Andrew Quintos and sophomores Damian Kolodziej and Cort Mantenino.
“They have some talent back there,” Galka said. “They just need a little time together.” One place where the Kardinals need not worry is in goal, where junior keeper Sebastian Ferreira returns. The All-Hudson County goalkeeper was outstanding as a sophomore, collecting 12 shutouts.
“He’s one of the top goalkeepers around and we’re fortunate to have him for the next two years,” Galka said.
Senior Michael Barros will serve as Ferreira’s backup in goal. The Kardinals appear solid in the midfield as well. Senior Richard Blancos is a steadying force there, but sophomore Marcelo Matta had a sensational freshman year, scoring 11 goals.
Seniors Danny dos Santos and Jordy Arias and junior Alexi Velazquez are also solid players in the midfield.
Up front, the Kardinals are fortunate to have top scorer Andres Pesantez back. Pesantez earned Third Team All-Group IV honors last year after scoring 17 goals, including two in the Kards’ win over Hackensack in the first round of the state playoffs.
Pesantez got off to a blazing start last season, scoring eight goals in the Kardinals’ first three games. He was slowed a bit by a midseason injury, so Galka is hopeful that Pesantez can remain healthy for the entire 2013 campaign.
“We have to keep him on the field,” Galka said. “He’s that important to us.”
The Kardinals also have seniors Kevin Tapia and Arturo Sanchez to play on the forward line with Pesantez.
“I think we have a good mix of kids,” Galka said. “I’m very happy with what I’ve seen so far. We’ve seen some good things. I just think we need to find an identity as a team.”
The Kardinals open the 2013 season against Memorial Sept. 6, as they begin the quest to repeat as Hudson County champs.
“I think it’s something that the kids really look forward to,” Galka said. “I think they want to hang on to that county championship. We’d like to defend the title. We want to win the league and the county championships.”
Who knows? Maybe there’s a state title in the making as well, like there was in 2011.
“It’s something we’re striving for,” Galka said.